Apprenticeships, which combine on-the-job and classroom training, have a long history of providing an effective pathway into the labor market. The challenge in the U.S. is making these “earn and learn” programs more available. Nationwide, there were only 636,000 workers engaged in the federally recognized U.S. apprenticeship system in 2020. Youth apprenticeship numbers are not well tracked but it is estimated that there are fewer than 20,000 youth apprentices ages 16-21 nationwide.
Apprenticeship is often associated with the traditional trades but there is growing interest in using this relevant, hands-on, and supported approach to learning in a much broader range of industry areas. In a tight labor market, more employers are expressing interest in providing apprenticeship training to both young people and adults, ensuring a skilled workforce for today and the future.
The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced $113 million in new grant funding to expand pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship opportunities for both youth and adults in new and fast-growing industries and occupations. This most recent investment is part of the Biden Administration’s ongoing strategy to strengthen job training and provide pathways to quality jobs in priority industry sectors.
In addition to these new federal grants, states including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin have invested in strategies to support and expand youth apprenticeship in recent years such as encouraging employers to offer work-based learning; creating intermediary organizations to organize and support apprenticeship partnerships; and offering apprenticeship as part of high school programs. In addition, they have put in place data systems to report on student participation and credentials earned to better track progress and ensure quality.
Switzerland has a long history of using youth apprenticeship as a core strategy for developing the next generation of workforce talent. A key feature of the Swiss model is the tight connection to the labor market, making it a popular pathway for students to achieve in-demand vocational qualifications and secure jobs. Swiss employers see it as their obligation to help prepare young people for productive and meaningful employment and about 30 percent of Swiss companies regularly hire student apprentices. More than 70 percent of students choose the apprenticeship route as their upper secondary school option knowing that they can then move directly into full-time employment or continue onto higher education. Read more about the Swiss VET model in NCEE’s report Gold Standard: The Swiss Vocational Education and Training System. And learn more about how education systems across the U.S. are working to build stronger links between schools and employers, in this interview with workforce development expert and America Achieves CEO Jon Schnur.